The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reading Room

Researcher Hopes to Write the Autobiography John Quincy Adams “Never had Time to Write.”

For the past six weeks, one of the digital microfilm readers in our library has been occupied by a researcher working his way through the microfilm edition of the Adams Family Papers. He is painstakingly transcribing passages from the handwritten correspondence of John Quincy Adams (JQA) in preparation for an intellectual biography of the man who witnessed two generations worth of political events play out on a world stage.

As the @JQAdams_MHS Twitter project highlights, John Quincy Adams was an obsessive chronicler of events in his own life and the global political networks in which he moved. Our dedicated researcher has set out to document JQA’s life as an observer of the world. De-centering the biographical subject, he hopes to write an outward-looking biography, “the autobiography [JQA] never had time to write” because he was so busy keeping diaries, writing letters, and otherwise documenting the events and interactions he took part in.

When asked for some of his initial observations, our dedicated researcher points to JQA’s antislavery agitation, which made him an outlier in his generation of Americans. The biographer suggests, echoing JQA’s own penchant for Biblical metaphors, that John Quincy Adams was a “John the Baptist,” helping prepare the way for the abolition of slavery decades after his death in 1848.

We wish our researcher the best of luck with his work and look forward to the biographical study to come.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 10:00 AM

Two New Volunteers Join the Reader Services Team

In May two volunteers, Beth Hirsch & Liz Francis, joined the library reader services team.  The two women, both currently students at Simmons College's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, will assist with the selection of documents to be featured in Looking at the Civil War: Massachusetts Finds Her Voice on the MHS website. The web-presentation features one document per month selected from the MHS' own collections & written 150 years prior by a Massachusetts resident reflecting on some facet of the Civil War.  For more information about the overall project, click here.

Beth's first assignment is to canvas a variety of collections looking for a document to be featured in June 2011 -- meaning the document must have been written in June 1861.  We are hoping to find a document that allows for a woman's voice to be heard.  Right now we are looking at a number of likely candidates.  Once the final selection is made Beth will complete a transcription of the document and research & write a contextual essay to accompany the digitized images of the document on our website (see our April document for an example of what this looks like).  After completing her work with the June document, Beth will likely dive right into collections containing letters written by Massachusetts soldiers who participated in the Battle of Bull Run in search of an item to feature in July. 

Liz's first task is to complete a survey of a body of letters written by Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson contained in the larger Curtis-Stevenson Family Papers.  Hannah served as a nurse in various Union hospitals in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington from July 1861 through October 1862. Liz is challenged to identify and summarize all letters of particular interest, which may be used in a number of different MHS projects over the course of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and also to select one single letter from the collection to be featured in Massachusetts Finds Her Voice in the coming months.  Again, once a selection is made Liz will be working on the transcription and contextual essay to support the document when it is added to the web-presentation. 

While our summer spots filled up fast, there will likely be additional opportunities for volunteers in the fall.  Please contact Elaine Grublin if you would like further information about volunteering for this project.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 May, 2011, 8:00 AM

Guest Post: Research Fellow Finds More Than She is Looking for in Sarah Louisa Guild's Diary

I have come across several surprises in the reading room recently, as is entirely typical in manuscript research. One archival pleasure is finding what we hope is there, but another is encountering the unexpected.

I eagerly opened Sarah Louisa Guild’s diary for 1898 anticipating some insights on the Spanish-American War, as the MHS catalog promised. I was seeking a woman's personal view of that conflict and Guild did not disappoint me. Her observant, intelligent entries demonstrate how avidly she followed news on the war as well as on local politics. She decried the "wretched Mugwumps who cry 'down with imperialism'. . . .  Mugwumps seem to always pull down but never build up." Her partisan interests were likely influenced by her older brother Curtis; "Curty" had volunteered to fight and had political ambitions, supported by his family. But the passion with which she wrote about political candidates and issues suggests that "Lulu" would have been engaged by them anyway.

I feel fortunate to have Guild's careful, candid thoughts on what was happening around her. As is the case with most war correspondence, her "homefront" letters did not make it into the archive, even though her brother's letters from Army camp are preserved. Without her diary, we'd have no trace of what Sarah Louisa made of the war or of her relationship to it.

But her diary is much richer than just political commentary. Guild wrote about her love of music and included capsule reviews of the concerts she attended. Sometimes I'd turn a page and find a pressed flower, or a four-leaf clover. One tiny pansy came from a bouquet sent to comfort her upon the death of her mother. Guild always appreciated such tokens of affection; she especially noted how one gift of flowers came from a friend who hadn’t much money. (Guild later sent that friend a ticket to the Boston Symphony.) The diary is also a record of Guild's mourning and her declining health. She consulted doctors and tried bromides and tonics to no avail. She wrote the last entries from a sanatorium in Connecticut that specialized in treating nervous diseases.

On occasion, Guild trained her sights on others in her social set. One unusually acerbic entry remarked upon the death of Isabella Stewart Gardner's husband in 1898:

Mr. Jack Gardner was seized with apoplexy at noon at the Somerset. He was carried to his Beacon St home and died at 9 P.M. Good natured clumsy man! Wonder if his nervous & fashion loving wife will marry again. He was like a Newfoundland dog at her heels.

Guild's judgment reminds us that late nineteenth-century women continued to be the makers and breakers of reputation among the privileged classes. Such barbs could sting deeply, as any fan of Edith Wharton knows. Gardner no doubt could wield mighty social muscle in her own defense.

Pressed flowers and sharp-tongued gossip: it's just such unexpected interruptions that helpfully unsettle what we think we're researching.  I opened her diary searching for a "good source," but find the privilege of glimpsing Sarah Louisa Guild, a complete, complicated human being who is more than the sum of her words.


Laura Prieto is currently working at the MHS as a Ruth R & Alyson R. Miller Fellow.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 22 April, 2011, 10:00 AM

Welcome to Short-Term Fellow Laura Prieto

This spring, the MHS staff  welcomes short-term fellow Laura Prieto, one of our 2010-2011 Ruth R & Alyson R. Miller fellows in women’s history. Dr. Prieto is an Associate Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies at Simmons College here in Boston. She received her Ph.D. in History from Brown University in 1998, and her dissertation on professional women artists in the United States, 1830-1930, has been published as the book At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).

In addition her work on women artists, Dr. Prieto has done extensive research on gender, race, and imperialism during the past ten years.  Her MHS fellowship project, “New Women, New Empire: 1898 and its Legacies for Women in the United States” is a part of this research.  During her fellowship, Dr. Prieto will be exploring the “real and imagined collection relationship between American and colonized women,” with a focus on the Spanish-American war and the immediate post-war period, as the U.S. began to realize imperial ambitions.  She will be reading the private writing of women (correspondence and diaries) on the “splendid little war”, as well as newspaper coverage and the more public responses to the war made by public figures such as Charles Francis Adams and by leaders in the Anti-Imperialist League.

Laura Prieto will give a brown bag lunch talk about her research at the MHS on Wednesday 4 May from 12:00-1:00pm. The event is free and open to the public.

The MHS staff is pleased to have Dr. Prieto with us throughout the spring and wishes her a fellowship period full of discoveries.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 April, 2011, 8:00 AM

February's Fellows

Keeping the reader services staff on their toes, three short-term fellows and one New England Regional Fellowship Consortium recipient are in residence at the MHS this February. Here is a look at what they are working on:

Marc Friedlaender Fellowship recipient Marc-William Palen, University of Texas at Austin, arrived early in the month to work on his project “The Cleveland 'Conspiracy': Mugwumpery, Free Trade Ideology, and Foreign Policy in Gilded-Age America.” Palen began his visit by working through an impressive list of almost two dozen late 19th century pamphlets, and has been working primarily with the papers of Edward Atkinson for the past week. He also plans to also work with the Henry Cabot Lodge Papers, George Bancroft Papers, and the Adams Family Papers (among others) during his time at the MHS.

Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship recipient Rachel Herrmann, University of Texas at Austin, also arrived at the beginning of the month to delve into "Food and War: Indians, Slaves, and the American Revolution." In her first two weeks at the MHS Herrmann focused her research in the papers of Henry Knox, William Hudson Ballard, and John Sullivan. This week she has worked with the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America Records and the microfilm edition of Revolutionary War Orderly Books at the Massachusetts Historical Society . She also plans to consult the Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Timothy Pickering Papers, Moses Greenleaf papers, and several other relevant collections during her visit.

Edward Hanson received the Paine Publication Fund Fellowship to continue his work editing the papers of Robert Treat Paine for publication. During this visit to the MHS library, Hanson, who has been working with the Paine papers since the late 1980s and co-edited with Stephen T. Riley the material for volumes 1 & 2 (1992), and edited volume 3 (2005), has been working with material from the Robert Treat Paine Papers held at the MHS preparing material for the 4th & 5th volumes in the series.

Finally, Joshua Smith, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, recipient of an award from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC), returned to the MHS this past Monday to complete his fellowship research toward his project, "Yankee Doodle Upset: New England's Yankee Identity in the War of 1812." Smith settled into his research consulting the Binney Family Papers and the Orderly Book of the Alfred Company of Cavalry. Later in the week he plans to work with the Vaughn Family Papers and the Caleb Strong Papers. Smith will also be visiting the Maine Historical Society and Mystic Seaport as part of his NERFC fellowship.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 16 February, 2011, 8:00 AM

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